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Charlie Gehringer

Charlie Gehringer

Position(s):
2B, 3B, 1B
Nicknames:
The Mechanical Man
Born:
May 11, 1903
Bats:
Left
Throws:
Right
Height:
5' 11"
Weight:
180 lbs
Major League Debut:
9-22-1924 with DET
Allstar Selections:
1937 MVP
Hall of Fame:
1949

Baseball's premier second baseman during the 1930s, Charlie Gehringer was among the greatest players to ever man the position.  A superb all-around player who excelled at every aspect of the game, the Detroit Tiger second-sacker led the American League in numerous statistical categories over the course of his career, including batting average, runs scored, hits, triples, doubles, stolen bases, putouts, and assists.  Gehringer helped lead the Tigers to three pennants and one world championship, won a Most Valuable Player Award, and represented the American League at second base in each of the first six All-Star Games.  He did so without much fanfare, and in such a consistent manner that he eventually came to be known as The Mechanical Man.

Biography

 

Born in Fowlerville, Michigan on May 11, 1903, Charles Leonard Gehringer grew up on a farmWiki just outside the city of his birth.  After attending Fowlerville High School, Gehringer enrolled at the University of Michigan, some 30 miles from the family farm, in 1922.  He was discovered one year later playing college ball by Detroit Tigers left fielder Bobby Veach, who subsequently brought the 20-year-old second baseman down to the Tigers training facility for a tryout.  Gehringer so impressed Detroit player-manager Ty Cobb that the legendary Tiger star urged club owner, Frank Navin, to sign him to a contract on the spot.  Cobb was later quoted as saying, "I knew Charlie would hit, and I was so anxious to sign him that I didn't even take the time to change out of my uniform before rushing him into the front office to sign a contract."

Gehringer spent the 1924 and 1925 campaigns in the minor leagues, making brief appearances with the Tigers at the end of both seasons.  He joined the team for good in 1926, earning the starting second base job, a position he held for the next 16 years.  In his first full season in the majors, Gehringer batted .277 and finished second in the league with 17 triples.  He gradually evolved into the league's top second baseman over the course of the next two seasons, excelling both at the bat and in the field.  Gehringer batted .317 in 1927, scored 110 runs, stole 17 bases, and led American League second basemen with 438 assists and 84 double plays.  He followed that up by batting .320 in 1928, scoring 108 runs, collecting 193 hits, and topping all players at his position with 507 assists.

Gehringer developed into one of the American League's finest all-around players in 1929.  In addition to establishing new career highs with 13 home runs, 106 runs batted in, and a .339 batting average, he topped the circuit with 131 runs scored, 215 hits, 19 triples, 45 doubles, and 27 stolen bases.  The 26 year-old second baseman also led all players at his position with 404 putouts and a .975 fielding percentage.       

Gehringer continued to perform at any extremely high level over the next four seasons, batting well over .300 and scoring in excess of 100 runs three times each, and surpassing 100 runs batted in and 200 hits twice each.  He finished among the league leaders with 144 runs scored, 47 doubles, and 19 stolen bases in 1930, then placed near the top of the league rankings with 42 doubles and a .325 batting average in 1933.  Gehringer played so consistently that he soon became known as The Mechanical Man.  He seemed to do everything so effortlessly, and with so little flair, that it wasn't terribly difficult to take him for granted.  Former teammate Mickey Cochrane once said of Gehringer, "He says hello on Opening Day and goodbye on Closing Day, and in between all he does is hit .350."  

Commenting on Gehringer's consistent play, New York Yankee Hall of Fame lefthander Lefty Gomez suggested, "You can wind him up in the spring and he'll hit .320 with 40 doubles."

An extremely quiet and unassuming man, Gehringer rarely displayed his emotions on the field, and he drew attention to himself by expressing himself vocally even less frequently.  Ty Cobb noted, "He'd (Gehringer) say hello at the start of Spring Training and goodbye at the end of the season, and the rest of the time he let his bat and glove do all the talking for him."

Acknowledging his quiet demeanor, Gehringer said, "I wasn't a rabble rouser.  I wasn't a big noisemaker in the infield, which a lot of managers think you've got to be or you're not showing.  But I don't think it contributes much."

Gehringer also developed a reputation during the early 1930s as one of the most difficult hitters in baseball to strike out.  He struck out a total of only 93 times between 1930 and 1933, fanning just 17 times in 699 total plate appearances in 1930.  Detroit manager Del Baker suggested, "Let Gehringer come to bat each time two strikes down to the pitcher, and he wouldn't bat more than 15 points under his season's average."

And, as for Gehringer's defense, no one fielded his position more smoothly or more effortlessly.  The second sacker had quick hands and rarely lost a ball he got his glove on.  Gehringer led all league second basemen in fielding percentage nine times, led or tied for the lead in assists seven times, and topped the circuit in putouts on three separate occasions.  Baseball authority H.G. Salsinger wrote: "He lacks showmanship, but he has polish that no other second baseman, with the exception of the great Napoleon Lajoie, ever had.  He has so well-schooled himself in the technique of his position that he makes the most difficult plays look easy."

Joined by legendary slugger Hank Greenberg on the right side of the Tiger infield the previous season, Gehringer helped lead Detroit to the American League pennant in 1934.

Gehringer topped the circuit with 134 runs scored and 214 hits, while also placing among the leaders with 127 runs batted in, 50 doubles, and a .356 batting average, en route to earning a second-place finish in the league MVP voting.  Although the Tigers subsequently lost the World Series to the Cardinals in seven games, Gehringer batted .379, with 11 hits and five runs scored during the Fall Classic. 

The Tigers repeated as American League champions in 1935, with their second baseman having another fabulous year.  In addition to hitting 19 home runs and driving in 108 runs, Gehringer finished among the league leaders with 123 runs scored, 201 hits, and a .330 batting average.  He placed sixth in the league MVP balloting, with teammate Greenberg winning the award.  Detroit then defeated the Chicago Cubs in six games in the World Series, with Gehringer starring once again by batting .375 and driving in four runs.

The New York Yankees began a four-year run as league champions in 1936, finishing 19 ½ games in front of the second-place Tigers.  Nevertheless, Gehringer had one of his finest seasons, driving in 116 runs, scoring 144 others, batting .354, compiling 227 hits, leading the league with 60 doubles, and striking out a career-low 13 times in 731 total plate appearances.  His outstanding performance earned him a fourth-place finish in the league MVP voting.

Although the Yankees repeated as A.L. champions in 1937, Gehringer earned league MVP honors for leading his Tigers to a second-place finish by knocking in 96 runs, scoring 133 others, amassing 40 doubles and 209 hits, and topping the circuit with a .371 batting average.  By winning his first batting title at the age of 34, Gehringer became the oldest player to lead his league in that particular category for the very first time. 

Gehringer had another big year in 1938, batting .306, driving in 107 runs, scoring 133 others, and establishing new career highs with 20 home runs and 113 bases on balls.  He also had solid seasons in 1939 and 1940, before his skills finally began to diminish the following year.  After batting a career-low .220 in 1941, Gehringer lost his starting second base job the following year, spending most of his time coming off the Detroit bench as a pinch-hitter.  He retired at the conclusion of the 1942 campaign with a career batting average of .320, 1,427 runs batted in, 1,774 runs scored, and 2,839 hits.  He trails only Eddie Collins in runs scored among second basemen, and his 574 doubles place him behind only Napoleon Lajoie among players at the position.  Gehringer batted over .300 on 13 separate occasions, knocked in more than 100 runs seven times, scored more than 100 runs 12 times, and compiled more than 200 hits, 40 doubles, and 10 triples seven times each.  In addition to winning the MVP trophy in 1937, Gehringer finished in the top 10 in the balloting seven other times.

After retiring from baseball, Gehringer enlisted in the United States Navy, where he served for three years before being released in 1945.  He briefly considered making a comeback at age 41, later stating, "I came out of the service in such good shape that I felt I could've played a few years."  However, he eventually chose instead to go into business selling fabrics to automobile manufacturers.  

After being elected to the Hall of Fame by the members of the BBWAA in 1949, Gehringer From Wikiserved three years as Detroit's general manager, before taking over as the team's vice president in the mid-1950s.  He eventually went back to his fabric-selling business, continuing with the company until 1974, when he sold his interest in the firm.  Gehringer also served as a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame Veterans Committe from 1953 to 1990.  He passed away on January 21, 1993 in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan at age 89.

Selected as the game's greatest living second baseman by a special committee of baseball writers at the time of baseball's centennial celebration in 1969, Charlie Gehringer usually ranks no higher than fifth among all-time players at his position in more recent polls.  Generally placed ahead of him in such rankings are Rogers Hornsby, Napoleon Lajoie, Eddie Collins, and Joe Morgan.  Some polls also have Jackie Robinson ranked above him.  But Gehringer was as versatile as any man who ever played second base, and he certainly must be considered one of the all-time greats at his position.  Satchel Paige, for one, held Gehringer in extremely high esteem, claiming that the Tiger second baseman was the best major league hitter he ever faced on his barnstorming tours.

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Tagged:
1935 World Series, 1949 Hall of Fame, AL MVP 1937, Baseball History, Batting title, Charlie Gehringer, Detroit Tigers, secondbase

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